Correction to This Article
A Feb. 23 article on the sentencing of Korean businessman Tongsun Park for his role in the bribery scandal involving the U.N. United Nations oil-for-food program for Iraq incorrectly said the program involved $64 million. It handled $64 billion in Iraqi oil receipts.

Park Sentenced to 5 Years in U.N. Oil-for-Food Bribery Scandal

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2007

NEW YORK, Feb. 22 -- South Korean businessman and influence peddler Tongsun Park was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for his role in the bribery scandal surrounding the United Nation's oil-for-food program for Iraq a decade ago.

Park, 71, admitted taking more than $2.5 million from Saddam Hussein's government to bribe senior U.N. officials to persuade them to ease economic sanctions against Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He was convicted in July of acting as an unregistered agent of Iraq; he was to have set up a back channel between then-U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and then-Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

The sentence was the maximum possible. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin also ordered Park to forfeit $1.2 million of his assets and fined him $15,000. Chin said Park had "acted out of greed" and "blatantly disregarded the law."

"You either bribed a U.N. official or you were acting as if you were going to bribe a U.N. official," Chin told Park, who stood impassively in the courtroom. He was taken into custody after saying goodbye to friends.

Park's trial and a U.N. investigation exposed a secretive network of businessmen, Washington politicians and other insiders who joined forces in the early 1990s to ease U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. Their efforts eventually led to the $64 million oil-for-food program allowing Iraq to sell its oil to pay for humanitarian goods.

Park's role in the scheme marked an extraordinary comeback -- and another amazing fall -- for a man who was indicted in the 1970s "Koreagate" influence-peddling scandal that roiled Washington. He had funneled hundreds of thousands in cash from the South Korean government to influential members of Congress. After the case broke, Park fled to South Korea. But after bribery charges against him were dropped, he agreed to return to the United States and testify before Congress about his activities.

During that era, Park was a fixture in Washington political circles, hosting parties at his historic George Town Club. His friends and clients included the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and William E. Timmons, an influential Republican lobbyist who once joined forces with Park in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the U.S. ouster of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.

"He was always known as a man who was willing to bring two people together for the right price," said Mark G. Califano, a former U.N. investigator who co-wrote "Good Intentions Corrupted," a book based on the findings of a U.N. probe led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker.

Despite his past, Park insinuated himself with Boutros-Ghali in the early 1990s, acting as an unofficial intelligence adviser on issues including the Korean Peninsula and Japan. He provided "first-class information," "knew everybody" and was "an integral part" of Washington's political elite, Boutros-Ghali told a team of U.N. investigators probing corruption in the humanitarian program.

Park was also valued by Boutros-Ghali and U.N. insiders for his capacity to secure money and political support for a variety of U.N. causes, including the organization's 50th anniversary celebration.

He also set up meetings with influential political leaders, including Rangel, now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to reinvigorate Boutros-Ghali's unsuccessful 1996 reelection campaign after the Clinton administration decided to veto his candidacy.

"It was always interesting to talk to Tongsun, about the travels he had done, relationships with people, how he was seeking to build a better world, said George Dalley, Rangel's chief of staff. "Whatever purpose he might have had, he was good at masking it. That is my best explanation of why a person even with a shadowy past could remake himself and develop a relationship that would be a positive one with a guy like Charlie Rangel."

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